Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to Summarize Source Content

One way to increase the credibility of your ideas is to incorporate expert ideas into your own writing with summary material.

What's summary material?

A stack of books is bigger than a summary on a piece of paper.
Can you summarize your favorite novel or film?
Unlike a quotation, which is an exact replica of another writer's original words, sentence or sentences, a summary "is a concise statement, written in your own words, of information found in a source" (Palmquist, 2012, pg. 257). For example, you can't possible quote an entire chapter in a textbook, but you could summarize its main point.  You might also summarize the main point of an entire article or entire book, or even just one paragraph.  The important thing is that you make your summary original, concise, and use it in such a way that the reader knows you have borrowed the information.  In other words, always cite summary material, and add it to your paper using attribution words.

Can you show me an example of summary material?

When summarizing an entire article on poisonous spiders, for example, a writer might compose the following paragraph:

It's exceptionally important that people enjoying the outdoors be able to identify poisonous spiders indigenous to the area where they are spending their leisure time.  Misidentifying a poisonous spider might have traumatic results.  For example, Dr. Sam Wessel, in an article called "A Guide to Poisonous Spiders Across the World," tells how, in 1994, his brother misidentified a spider in the desert as being a benign spider from his hometown in Ohio, a forested area.  The misidentified desert spider was extremely poisonous, and as a result of the confusion, his brother lost his entire arm by the following year (2009).

What makes a summary a good summary?

The writer of the previous paragraph follows all of the rules for using summary material.

  1. The original article was several pages long, but the summary concisely reiterates just the main point that supports the topic sentence of the paragraph.  
  2. Furthermore, the writer was successful in letting readers know where they can find the original story; in Dr. Sam Wessel's article, "A Guide to Poisonous Spiders across the World," which was published in 2009.  
  3. We can also easily tell which information from the paragraph belongs to the original writer, and which information came from Wessel.

To summarize using summary material, be sure the information you summarize is pertinent to your own, original point.  Make sure the reader can distinguish your own ideas from the ideas that came from a source.  Last, but not least, make sure you cite the summary material.


Palmquist., M. (2012). The Bedford Researcher (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford's/St. Martin's.

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